The working class lost a genuine hero in November 2022 when Fred Hyde died just before his 73rd birthday. Hyde was a brilliant lawyer and labor leader who used his talents and privileges for the betterment of his class.
While still in law school Fred Hyde joined the struggle of women and people of color on staff at his college who demanded better pay and respect. He drafted a legislative bill so that all state workers would receive an across-the-board increase, rather than a percentage favoring the higher paid. Once he won his law degree Hyde dedicated his skills to helping the most oppressed in the here-and-now as he also fought for a socialist future.
A leap into radical action. Fred Hyde grew up on his parents’ ranch in Oregon and was sent east to get a bourgeois education at Yale. But the political turbulence of the ’60s swept him up. He participated in the massive 1969 March on Washington against the Vietnam War and also demonstrations in New Haven, Conn., during the trial of Black Panther Party leaders Ericka Huggins and Bobby Seale. He studied Marxist theory in his junior year abroad in Germany.
When this budding leftist met the Freedom Socialist Party in Seattle he knew this was the revolutionary group for him. Throughout his life he aided the party and its members in myriad ways, and won two profound victories. Hyde’s legal work on party founder Clara Fraser’s victorious 7-year-long sex and political ideology discrimination case against Seattle City Light affirmed the right of every city worker in Seattle to speak out against management and to organize on their own behalf.
Next came the Freeway Hall Case in which a conflict over a political donation was used as a pretext for an anti-communist assault on members’ privacy rights. The accuser demanded FSP membership lists, contributors’ names, meeting minutes and financial data. Party leaders refused to turn over records and they, including Fred and fellow radical attorney Val Carlson, were sentenced to jail. They succeeded in getting the ruling overturned and the charges dismissed by the state Supreme Court. The case was hailed by the Washington State Labor Council as a landmark in protecting workers’ rights.
Working-class hero. Hyde was a state hearing examiner for unemployment benefit appeals. He joined the Washington Federation of State Employees, where he organized coworkers into the union, advocated for lower-paid colleagues, and was a delegate to the Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council.
On the council during the reactionary Reagan years, he won respect for being an early supporter of abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, and for the right to be radical in the labor movement and on the job. He worked with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists to fight for workers of color. He collaborated with rank-and-file unionists to win labor support for Latin American workers’ struggles. He organized for a U.S. labor party in the 1990s.
Essential to all these causes was Hyde’s and FSP’s political approach to the law, reaching out for union and community support.
A bond with oppressed people. Fred attributed his working-class sensibilities to his physical disability from cerebral palsy, which led him to identify with oppressed people. In his life, Hyde never abandoned the values of the 1960s and ’70s movements for racial justice, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and economic as well as political democracy. He marched for environmental justice and against imperialist wars. And he kept on going, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007.
A warm memory he was fond of sharing was from his retirement party. His boss and colleagues described him as their go-to guy to give the most difficult cases because he could usually figure out how to obtain the worker’s unemployment claim. His coworkers performed a skit enacting a spirited picket line, with signs and chants of “Hell no, Fred can’t go!” and “Retire imperialism, not Fred!”
After retirement this radical lawyer became a full-time revolutionary. He assisted the FSP International Secretary and was an advisor on legal issues. He marched on every picket line in town and attended political meetings and events as long as he was physically able.
A modern-day Joe Hill, Hyde was an inspiration to many radicals and labor activists for half a century. He proved it is possible to be both a professional and a staunch supporter of workers. From San Diego up to Maine, on every line with pride, wherever workers organize, it’s there you’ll find Fred Hyde.
¡Fred Hyde, presente!